As table-top games go, Bar Billiards is a curiosity item both when simulated on screen and even nowadays in an actual pub. Despite the protestations of Blue Ribbon on the inlay, the game is certainly not raved about [Not in student drinking circles anyway - Ed] so most players will come to it ignorant of its rules. It must also be stressed foremost that its title isn't simply a yoof way of saying the bog-standard billiards game. Bar Billiards is completely different.
This being so, one may have thought Blue Ribbon would devise a gentle way of introducing how to play it in its instructions. But annoyingly, they don't. Thus your first game has to be a trial and error knockabout with docs to the left, screen with latest foul stroke penalty displayed to the right and puzzled countenance on visage firmly in the middle.
The main screen, preceded by a list of key controls and the weird blank screen that simply says 'Press N to continue', is nicely laid out with the most part occupied by an horizonal overview of the Bar Billiards' table. An information box sits at the bottom with "Break points" bottom left and "Time remaining" bottom right while the scores of each player are laid out, in the wall-hanger style beloved of these sports, across the top in tens, hundreds and thousands. The last category may surprise you if you're used to playing Pool or Snooker sims (with a maximum break value less than a fifth of 1,000) but potting x ball in y pocket in Bar Billiards will net you a whopping four hundred points!
The niceties of Bar Billiards revolve around hole positions and pegs. Unlike other comparable tables, the holes are set not at the corners of the green felt but actually in the table itself. The end with the D has no holes at all whilst the opposite one has a row of five evenly spaced ones. Four holes as the corners of a diamond shape mark the centre of the table and potting a ball into one of these is the most desirable as these pockets reap the highest point returns. But these four holes are guarded by pegs which you must not knock down under any circumstances.
You always shoot from the D, although you can manoeuvre the cue ball around inside of it, and you quickly learn, as in Snooker, that the idea is to use the cue ball to hit another ball into a hole. Unlike in Snooker, you begin with only two balls on the table and a stash of white balls (which are displayed in a column to the left of it).
The ZX*/ combination of keys will 'drag' a line out from the cue ball toward the ball you are aiming at, extending it and tilting it at the requisite degrees as you wish; a method which you also see in the version of Snooker released by Acornsoft. Always be aware though, that the length of line approximates the strength with which you will hit the cue ball. This is not an ideal situation as it means you can take aim but then, if you wish to strike the cue ball lightly, you must retract the line somewhat. Unless you are firing in a multiple of 45 degrees, it is hard to manipulate the keys to do this without losing the accuracy of your original aim. In Acornsoft's Snooker the length of the line is immaterial and when you press the fire key, a 'strength' bar fires up for the length of time it is held down. Comparing the two you realise the disadvantage of Bar Billiards' method.
If you're following the rules all right so far, you will remember the stash of white balls and the two balls on the table. One of them comes straight from the stash and is coloured, quite obviously, white. The other is red. The aim of the game, as you have to discover if you're new to it, is to "keep potting" and keep the other player off the table. The holes all score varying points; those that are not guarded by pegs, for a white ball, score 10, 20, 30, 20 and 10 from top to bottom. For a red ball, the scores are doubled. In the 'diamond' (which is not painted as such but is the best way of refering to the 'peg' holes), the scores are drastically higher: three holes guarded by red pegs gain 50, 100 and 50 points similarly; the remaining hole guarded by the black peg will add 200 points onto your total. Again, potting red doubles the score.
In a perfect world, the "keep potting" would work so: Shot one would pot the red with the white; the red coming out again into the D to be used as the cue ball to pot red again. You'd then continue likewise for the fifteen minute time limit. Alas, it's designed not to be so easy. The peg diamond frequently obscures any shot that could guarantee a successful pot of any colour. Taking risks is foolhardy, and knocking any balls around any peg requires extreme care. If you knock down the black peg, you lose all your score so far - and remember you must always shoot from the D! So even if you have the red teetering on the edge of the hole guarded by the black peg, between it and the cue ball stands a risk of losing everything!
Frequently you'll miss all balls by playing safe. If so, you must take the shot, from the D, again. Simple. but if your cue ball collides with another, and neither is potted, another ball will be taken from the stash and set in the D. This vicious circle can result in a table full of white balls, although after seven, it is the ball nearest the D which is transported inside of it to become the cue.
Phew! Well, they're the rules. Once you re-read and digest them, although you'll still find the game quite difficult, you will appreciate the rather nifty information displayed in the afore mentioned box after each shot. A fantastic touch is that its display is often positive as you improve, with remarks like "Good shot!" and "Great shot!" helping to counterbalance all the fouls you're destined to make in that first game.
The rules have necessarily had to take up the majority of this review but it is testament to the game's playability that all are implemented. The graphics' quality is also high and the sliding score tab and super-smooth scrolling balls (which never seem to fluxate) lend a real touch of professionalism to what is a snip as a budget title.
The biggest irk is that, when firing full strength at a cluster of balls, they do not spin off in the way Mr Einstein proved. Sometimes all unrealistically stop dead, presumably bouncing off one another, with a series of 'hit' blips!
Bar Billiards is a unique little simulation, suitable for one and two players. Its scant documentation does to some extent reduce its market to those who know the pub game and the strange inclusions of the 'press N' screen feature plus a Game Over tune sounding uncannily like "The Farmer's In His Den" are out of place. But the table code can hardly be faulted and the graphics and playability make for an enjoyable game.